At long last, opening night is here for the Edmonton Oilers as they prepare to face the Vancouver Canucks. And now that they know who has made the team–Magnus Paajarvi and Teemu Hartikainen–and who has not–center Chris Vande Velde and defensemen Colton Teubert and Taylor Fedun were sent back to Oklahoma City on Friday–the season can begin.
The Canucks are, of course, loaded with talented players like Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler among others, in addition to having notable defensemen like Dan Hamhuis, Alexander Edler and Kevin Bieksa. They will have plenty of opportunities to put points on the scoreboard against an improved, but still suspect, Edmonton defense. And with one of Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider in net, they are always going to have a chance to win. That being said, it is worth noting that the Canucks are coming off a season-opening loss at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks last night, 7-3, so they will be sore, tired and still a bit rusty. Schneider got torn apart in net before Luongo relieved him. Who will start for them tonight? And will they fare any better tonight than they did last night? Could this spell disaster for the Canucks?
The Oilers will be looking to start off the 2013 season on the right foot. Half of their roster spent some or significant time playing hockey during the lockout and so will be in great game shape. And even with Vancouver having played against the Ducks last night, this should still be a stiff first test for the Oilers as they try to gauge how much of an effect their mid-season form will have on tonight’s matchup. Devan Dubnyk will get the start in net for the Oilers and will be looking to make a great first impression for this season.
Special teams could be a huge factor. Edmonton ranked third in power play percentage last season (20.6%), but Vancouver was right behind them in fourth place (19.8%). Vancouver ranked sixth in the NHL in penalty kill percentage last season (86%), while Edmonton was fourteenth (82.4%). The Oilers will be going with the OKC line that worked so well for the Oklahoma City Barons this season–Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Hartikainen and Justin Schultz–as the first power play unit, while the second unit figures to be comprised of Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Smyth, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Whitney.
This game has the potential to be a high-scoring slugfest, so we will see who is left standing at the end.